Quebec scientist and documentary filmmaker Jean Lemire and his team of researchers spent more than a year studying the effects of climate change in Antarctica. The resulting film, The Last Continent, is far from a dull science doc. Lemire sat down for a conversation when his film played during Hot Docs. Opens Friday, August 1. For venues and times, see film times.
How did the mission come together?
It all started in 2002 when we did the Arctic mission through the Northwest Passage, documenting the effect of climate change. Then I thought we could go to Antarctica in our sailboat. Lots of people go there, but they come back before winter, and our plan was to over-?winter there.
You wanted to moor the boat in a harbour that would freeze over and lock it in place for the winter, but global warming had other ideas.
We took two years to prepare the expedition. We chose this 40-?metre-?wide bay, and it didn't freeze. As you see in the film, we had to move the boat during a terrible storm, and we felt the panic inside but we could not show it. It was scary and intense. I had a real pain in my chest. When that happens, you forget the camera. Thankfully, our cameraman and soundman did not, and were able to shoot while all this chaos was going on.
There's some great drama in the film, including an abandoned seal pup.
We came back with 600 hours of footage from 430 days of shooting. There are probably 10 other stories about seals, and I had to choose the best, one where the baby seal will be safe or where it will die due to climate change. It's a balancing act.
Did everybody really get along as well as it seems?
People were in survival mode most of the time. We needed each other, so starting a fight today over something meant that you would need them tomorrow and next week and next month. We had a psychologist and a doctor in our crew of 13, and we worked with NASA a lot to make sure we had the right mix of crew.
How did you keep from getting bored?
There really wasn't time to be bored. We were followed through our website by 900,000 people a day, We were doing up to 10 video satellite conferences with school kids a day. Lots of people brought books and DVDs, but we didn't have time for any of that.
Because it didn't get cold enough, some of your food spoiled. Was running out ever a concern?
We had lots of food. We didn't have lots of choices by the end. But it was very important to have good food because food is pleasure, especially when you don't have sex.
No sex for 430 days?
There were only three girls on board, so there were lots of people who didn't have sex. And relationships in such confined space in such isolation over such a long period of time could be tricky.